Stress Relief with Nervine Herbs
by Christa Sinadinos, Clinical Herbalist

Herbs are highly beneficial for reducing stress and alleviating tension.Herbs that have a calming effect on the nervous system are generally classified as a nervine.Most gentle nervine herbs can be consumed throughout the day to relieve mild anxiety and to help a person maintain a calm composure.Consuming gentle nervines earlier in the day is very helpful for individuals who feel irritable or anxious as a result of stress, and for those who struggle with insomnia.Gentle nervines keep the nervous system from getting too revved up, and they encourage a person to have a relaxing evening and a more restful sleep.Examples of gentle nervines include catnip, chamomile, damiana, lemon balm, linden, skullcap, wild oats, and wood betony.

Sedative herbs calm or tranquilize by reducing functional activity; they can be used to reduce nervous tension, pain, neuromuscular spasms, and insomnia.Moderate and potent sedative herbs include California poppy, hops, kava kava, passion flower, Jamaican dogwood, and valerian.

How to use herbal extracts for stress relief

Herbal extracts, also known as tinctures, are a concentrated liquid medium consisting of alcohol, water, and sometimes glycerin.Extracts of a gentle nervine such as chamomile, damiana, lavender, lemon balm, skullcap, and wild oats are rarely sedating, especially in tincture form.Place 30-60 drops of a gentle nervine extract in four ounces of water and consume once in the afternoon and once in the early evening. Consume 30-60 drops of the more potent sedative herbal extracts one to two hours before bed, and then take another dose before going to bed.

Another dose can be taken if awakening occurs in the middle of the night.

How to prepare a strong infusion of a nervine herb

Place 2-4 heaping tablespoons of the selected herb into a 16 ounce mason jar, pour two cups of hot water over the herb, and then cover the vessel.Allow the tea to steep for a minimum of 30 minutes (longer is fine too), then strain and drink.Please note: For best results be sure to use hot water that has not yet boiled, but has just started to produce steam.This is especially true for certain heat sensitive herbs such as chamomile, skullcap, and passionflower.

Start by drinking four to eight ounces of the tea up to three hours before going to bed, and then drink another 2-4 ounces of the tea an hour before bed.This concentrated method of preparing tea is less likely to cause a person with insomnia to awake and have to urinate in the middle of the night.

Gentle Nervine Herbs

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Catnip acts as a gentle nervine for most adults and a mild sedative for children.This herb is a mild antispasmodic which is beneficial in cases of digestive cramping.The tea is also helpful for children with digestive cramps and restlessness (combine with peppermint and chamomile).The aromatic oils will pass through nursing mothers’ breast milk, which can be useful in aiding infant colic.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile has safe and effective nervine actions for children, as well as for adults.A tea or bath of chamomile soothes restlessness, reduces irritability, and encourages peaceful sleep.Chamomile can also be useful for soothing teething or colicky babies, as well as for reducing children’s fevers. It has anti-spasmodic, carminative (gas expelling), and anti-inflammatory properties.

Contraindications: If you are allergic to ragweed or other plants in the daisy family, there is a possibility that you may experience an allergic reaction to chamomile.Test chamomile topically by placing some of the tea on the inside of the elbow before consuming internally; if a rash forms within 24 hours, you are likely allergic and should avoid using chamomile.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is a gentle nervine and a mild sedative.It can help to reduce anxiety and nervousness, and in some cases it may help with insomnia.Additionally, lemon balm can be helpful as a treatment for hyperactive children, and the tea of lemon balm also acts as a cooling diaphoretic.

Linden Flowers (Tilia europa)
Linden flowers have gentle calming actions on the nervous system.They can be useful as a mild relaxant for children as well as adults.The flowers contain both tannins and mucilage, which helps to soothe irritated membranes in the upper respiratory system and in the digestive tract.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap has nervine properties, and can be helpful with insomnia. It is especially useful if a person is unable to sleep due to an overactive mind.ᅠ It has anti-spasmodic actions, and can help to reduce muscular cramping of the back, the uterus, and the intestines.

Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) (Bishop’s wort)
Wood betony has a mild calming effect on the nervous system.ᅠ It helps to reduce anxiety and nervous tension.ᅠ It may be helpful for headaches and migraines, especially those caused by nervous tension.ᅠ

Potent Nervine and Sedatives Herbs

Hops (Humulus lupulus)
The flowers of the hop plant, known as hops, are a sedative and relaxant that can be useful with insomnia. They have potent nervine and calmative actions, and can be used to reduce nervousness and anxiety. Consume 30-60 drops of the extract one to two hours before bedtime and again before retiring to calm an active mind and encourage restful sleep.The tea is bitter tasting and may be difficult for some to palate.As an alternative, hops dream pillows can be placed at the head of the bed to encourage sedation; the pillows smell best when combined with roses, lavender, and chamomile.Some individuals may experience an intensified dream state.Hops also have carminative and digestive antispasmodic properties.

Contraindications: Hops can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals, and can have estrogenic effects (in both men and women) when it is consumed long term or in high doses.

Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia erythrina)
Jamaican dogwood promotes quiet, restful sleep in individuals suffering from sleeplessness that is caused by nervous excitement, mental worry, anxiety, or pain.The herb is a powerful analgesic, and is useful in treating numerous kinds of pain.It can help to relieve facial neuralgia and toothaches, and it may reduce headache pain.Topical and internal use of the herb may be beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory rheumatism.ᅠ As a strong antispasmodic, it sedates tracheal spasms which can result from respiratory infections such as bronchitis or whooping cough.ᅠ It may also help to control night coughing and induces restful sleep.

Contraindications: avoid using with other analgesic medications and use caution while operating heavy machinery.Consult a practitioner before using during pregnancy.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian is a well known sedative.ᅠ It can help to reduce nervous anxiety and tension, and can be especially helpful for insomnia resulting from pain or an overactive mind.ᅠ The fresh plant extract of valerian has a strong antispasmodic action that helps to relax both smooth muscles and skeletal muscles.ᅠ It is helpful for digestive and reproductive cramps, as well as muscle spasms of the neck, back, and legs.It can also be used topically and internally to aid in cases of tooth pain.ᅠ

Some people may experience the opposite effects on the nervous system from taking this herb.ᅠ For instance, it may stimulate the nervous system, cause heart palpitations, or nausea.ᅠ If this occurs, discontinue use and choose another nervine herb.

Contraindications: Avoid using this herb with other pain medications.Do not operate heavy machinery or drive while taking valerian.Avoid using this herb if it causes unpleasant side effects.Consult a practitioner before using valerian during pregnancy.

Recipes

Gentle Nervine Tea
1 part each of spearmint, chamomile, and linden
1/4 part each of catnip, lemon balm, skullcap, and wood betony

Herbal Sedative Extract
Combine equal parts of the following herbal extracts: valerian (fresh root), hops, passion flower, and California poppy (fresh plant extract).Take 30-90 drops, in 4 ounces of water.


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